Don’t let the name fool you! Your Final Judgment is not necessarily “Final,” and if it contains a parenting plan or provides for support, then it is very likely that it can be modified upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances. Final Judgments in family law will often contain some, if not all, of the following:
(1) A parenting plan addressing parental responsibility, timesharing, and other aspects related to the parenting of the child.
(2) Equitable distribution, which is a division of the marital assets and liabilities.
(3) Alimony, which is spousal support based on the need and ability to pay of the spouses and the standard of living established during the marriage.
(4) Child support, which is a function of a formula in which the combined net income of the parties is used, along with other factors identified in the child support guidelines formula.
(5) Attorneys’ fees.
The final judgment may be modified upon a showing of a “substantial change in circumstance” as it relates to the parenting plan, alimony (if alimony was awarded and not designated as non-modifiable), and child support. The court does not have jurisdiction, however, to go back and change its final awards in all matters. For example, once the court orders an equitable distribution of the marital assets and liabilities, the court is not able to go back later and change the property division.
A substantial change in circumstances is defined by statute as a “substantial, material, and unanticipated change in circumstances.” To modify a parenting plan, the party wishing to do so must demonstrate that something substantial, material, and unanticipated has changed since the final judgement such that it is in the child’s best interest for the modification to occur. This is a two-prong test and is often described as the “extraordinary burden test.” For a modification of timesharing to be successful, as unusual as it may sound, the best interest of the child is not the first consideration. Before the court can consider the best interest prong of the test, the court must first find that there has been a substantial change in circumstance.
With regard to child support, a substantial change in circumstances, which is permanent in nature, must be demonstrated, and the guidelines themselves may provide for a substantial change in circumstances if the new obligation would differ by 15% or $50, whichever is greater.
If things have changed since your final judgment was entered, things that were not contemplated at the time the final judgment was entered, and you are considering whether to seek a modification, please call my office to schedule a consultation so we can discuss whether a modification action is right for you.